Free and Open Indo-Pacific/FOIPSouth Asia

Sri Lanka bans foreign research ships for a year

The Associated Press

Sri Lanka has declared a yearlong moratorium on foreign research ships entering its waters amid India’s concerns over Chinese vessels docking in the region.

Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry spokesman Niluka Kadurugamuwa said the moratorium applies to all countries and will allow local researchers to build capacity to conduct joint research with foreign counterparts.

A Chinese vessel bristling with antennas and communication gear docks at Sri Lanka’s Chinese-run port of Hambantota in August 2022 despite concerns from India and the United States about alleged spying activities. The Yuan Wang 5 entered the deep-sea port after securing permission to enter Sri Lankan waters on the condition it would not engage in research.
VIDEO CREDIT: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Chinese ships have docked at Sri Lankan ports in recent years based on bilateral agreements. In October 2023, for example, the Chinese vessel Shi Yan 6 docked in Colombo for several days, while in 2022 the Chinese navy vessel Yuan Wang 5 docked at the Chinese-run Hambantota port in southern Sri Lanka.

India and the United States protested the port visit of the Yuan Wang 5, and Sri Lanka ordered the alleged spy ship to turn off intelligence collection equipment before docking, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute reported.

Sri Lanka is located on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, in what India considers an area of strategic importance.

Sri Lanka borrowed heavily from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over the past decade, including for projects under Beijing’s One Belt, One Road infrastructure scheme. The projects failed to earn enough revenue to pay for the loans, however, and in 2017, Sri Lanka turned over the Hambantota port to the PRC under a 99-year lease. The deal raised concerns that it could clear the way for a Chinese military base on the island.

Sri Lanka declared bankruptcy in April 2022 with more than $83 billion of debt, more than half owed to foreign creditors, with the PRC accounting for about 10% of the loans. Since then, New Delhi has provided significant financial and material assistance to Sri Lanka.

India and the PRC recently agreed terms with Sri Lanka separately for restructuring its debt, which enabled the disbursement of a second installment of a $2.9 billion package from the International Monetary Fund aimed at helping Colombo out of its economic crisis.

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